Behavioral Science Behind the Starbucks App

I’m not a huge coffee drinker but I enjoy a white chocolate mocha from Starbucks every once in a while. What I enjoy more than the coffee though is the experience of using their app. Not only is it easy to use but the behavioral science principles behind it are brilliant.

How it Works

Like most food apps, you can view the menu and order from the app (which allows you to skip the line when you get there). You don’t pay by credit card though, you pay by adding money to a virtual gift card stored on your phone. This is where the genius begins

Pain of Paying

As the name implies, we actually feel pain when parting with our money. Cash is the hardest to part with, credit cards are a little easier, and gift cards are easier yet. Starbucks never charges your credit card for an order; that comes off of your gift card.

You will feel better about adding money to the gift card because it doesn’t seem like you’re parting with it yet. When you do use the gift card it still doesn’t feel like you’re losing money because the money was just sitting there. They have removed the pain of me parting with my money.

Sunk Cost

Which brings me to the sunk cost fallacy. As mentioned above, when money is just sitting there, we feel like we have to use it. We may even order things we wouldn’t normally order because it feels like free money. If we only have $7 left on the card, why not get coffee and a breakfast sandwich? Otherwise there will only be a couple of dollars left after the coffee. We would never do that paying by cash or credit card unless we were really, truly, hungry. And don’t worry, we can always load up the card for next time.

Every interaction with Starbucks is effortless and I wish more companies used behavioral science to make me feel better about doing business with them.

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